Carey has always been a singer, loving spending time with their grandmother belting out songs together. But being attacked by a homophobic bully made Carey quit voice lessons. Plus as their grandmother’s dementia worsens, Carey doesn’t have much reason to sing. Luckily, Carey has a very supportive mother and a good therapist to help them navigate being genderqueer in a binary world. Carey also knows that they messed up big time with one of their best friends, half of a pair of twins who have been friends forever. As Carey continues to face bigoted hatred from a teacher at school and a classmate, they also meet Cris, a boy who is very interested in Carey, their voice and becoming more than friends. Cris convinces Carey to try out for the school musical and to audition to be Elphaba in Wicked. As Carey grows in confidence, the voices of hate around them get louder and more intense, forcing them to find a way through the hatred to a place of self empowerment where Carey is allowed to sing and to fully be themselves.
Salvatore, who identifies as genderqueer themselves, has written a gripping story of homophobia and the power and activism it takes to regain control of our schools and communities from bigots. Added in are marvelous depictions of first love with all of the feels on the page. There are also strong depictions of what an ally looks like, how to be a great friend, and the importance of giving people a chance to change.
Throughout this entire novel, Carey is in the spotlight. Their emotions around being genderqueer, being targeted by hate, and also being in love are captured with care and real empathy. They are on a journey to self-acceptance even as they seek out the spotlight for their voice. It’s a fascinating look at performance, theater and the performer themselves.
This one will have you righteously angry and applauding by turns. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Nima has always wished that she was different somehow. Part of it is the loss of her father before she was born. Part of it is that she doesn’t feel like she fits into her suburban home in America. Part of it is that she isn’t connected enough to her Sudanese heritage. Haitham, a boy who lives nearby, is her only friend and when he is injured after they argue, Nima finds herself adrift and spending days without talking to anyone. She dreams about a fantasy life where her father wasn’t killed, she has a large extended family, and her mother is not overworked and exhausted. Soon those dreams lead to her taking risks, inviting a hungry spirit into her life, one who looks a lot like her and can show her the life of her dreams. But what is the cost of these dreams?
Told in exceptional poetry, this verse novel for teens is a deep look at racism, Islamophobia, and being part of a large diaspora. Elhillo’s poetry is some of the best I have read in a YA verse novel. She captures the dark emotions of loneliness, hate crimes, and lack of self-esteem with such clarity and empathy. Her poetry shows the importance of family, whether it is imagined or real. It shows the dangers of wanting to escape your life and of the potential of losing it all along the way.
Nima is the sort of protagonist that readers will want to shake and comfort. She is incredibly lonely, spending her evenings isolated and her days silent. Her relationship with her mother is complex and well drawn, creating both tension and connection in turns. Readers will see themselves in Nima, in dreaming of alternate lives and outcomes. They will get a close look at the experience of an immigrant family that keeps secrets in order to survive.
Incredible writing combines with a gorgeous story of loneliness and risk. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
The Locus Science Fiction Foundation has announced the top ten finalists in each of their categories for the 2021 awards. The winners will be announced on June 26, 2021. There is a young adult category and here is the Top Ten:
Jayne has moved from her Texas hometown to New York City to attend design school. Her older sister, June, lives in New York City too, but the two haven’t spoken in years. Jayne has spent a lot of time partying in clubs and bars and sleeping with boys. Now she lives in a horrible tiny illegally sublet apartment without running water or heat, but with a roommate who won’t pay rent, occasionally sleeps with her, and then ignores her. When Jayne and June get back in touch with one another, Jayne finds out that her sister has cancer. Even more, June has taken on Jayne’s identity in order to use her insurance for the surgery she needs. Jayne finds herself loving her sister’s fancy and safe apartment and basically moving in with her. Jayne has her own issues to confront, including her relationship with food, her hatred of her body, and the way she binge eats. As the two sisters grow closer, the truth must be shared between them in order for them both to recover.
Choi has once again created a novel that lays her characters bare before the reader. Jayne is so caught up in her own tragic life story, that it startles her and the reader alike when she must face a true tragedy, her sister’s cancer diagnosis. As Jayne obsesses about her classes, her future career, her awful apartment, her horrible roommate, and her family, she avoids thinking about her eating disorder or facing it at all. Readers will see the evidence of her imbalanced relationship to food, but the extent of the problem is only steadily revealed as the layers are peeled away.
Jayne is a captivating character, full of so much self doubt and self hatred. Her story is full of unflinching honesty paired with the poignant truth of a family who has immigrated to the United States and stands to lose one another along the way. Jayne’s relationships with her mother and sister are so beautifully crafted, they ring with such truth that they are frightening. Choi’s writing is masterful throughout, capturing the tragic, beautiful story of growing up as a Korean-American immigrant.
Heartbreakingly true, riveting writing and stellar characters. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
YALSA has announced the nominees for the 2021 Teens’ Top Ten. The Top Ten is a list chosen by teens where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year. Nominations come from members of teen book groups in 15 school and public libraries across the nation. Here are this year’s nominees:
On their annual beach vacation, a teen and her family experience an unusual summer. It’s a summer of time spent sailing and swimming. A summer full of competitive tennis games, shared meals, and naps. It was also a summer of new love, hot crushes, and strange boys. It was the summer when the Godden brothers arrived. Kit was the golden brother, impossibly handsome and entirely intoxicating when he turned his attention on you. Hugo was the darkness to his brother’s shine, the surliness to his charm. As the narrator watches, her sister and Kit become involved, flirting at first and then becoming more and more. What should be just a summer fling has an underpinning of unease and manipulation, just in time for Kit to turn his attention to the narrator who by now should know better. But even then, he has more chaos to create.
Printz Medal winner, Rosoff has created a slim volume that is impossible to put down. It has the languid and flowing feel of Kit himself, drawing readers in with promises of summer fun and then turning into something quite unusual, dark and menacing. The book is a great coming-of-age story where readers get to see a young woman realize what is happening around her and yet not quite be able to stop it from engulfing her as well. The narrator is never named, but all is seen and felt through her own experiences, making it an intensely personal read.
The writing is exceptional. Rosoff quietly and carefully seeds doubts with the words she chooses to use in describing the characters, the things that the narrator sees, and the questions that she has deep down. Rosoff situates us all with a rather unreliable narrator, who sees her siblings and family in a specific way, then along with the reader has new realizations about them and what that means.
Sun drenched, threatening and vibrantly feminist this is a triumph of a book. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
At age 16, Deka is preparing for the blood ceremony in her village that will prove that she is pure and worthy of marriage. When her village is attacked by deathshrieks though, Deka’s blood flows gold rather than red. Deka is discovered and held in a cell where she is drained of her blood regularly. Now unable to die permanently, she suffers through several deaths while her blood is sold by the elite members of her village. When a strange woman arrives wielding the power of the Emperor, she takes Deka with her to join a new elite force of fighters, all of them girls with gold blood and immortality. It is there that Deka becomes a warrior, learning to fight the deathshrieks and also learning about the powers she seems to have that no one else does, including the ability to order the deathshrieks to obey her commands. But all is not what it seems in the training camp. Steadily, Deka and her friends discover what is being hidden from them all.
Written in wildly engaging style, this book is a gripping and tense look at a society that denigrates women yet has to depend on them for their very survival in war. The pacing is strong, the book moving ahead with new discoveries and new revelations nicely. The diverse characters fill the entire cast, making a rich reading experience in an interesting fantasy world with monsters who are more than they seem at first.
Deka is an engaging protagonist. She must push back on the way she was raised to be submissive, something that many girls and women in our own society must do as well. Stepping into her own power is a theme of the book, learning to wield her new weapons and then figuring out who the real enemies are. Readers will figure out the puzzle long before Deka even seems interested in wondering about it. There are a few surprises along the way though, making it worth reading even if the reader has it mostly solved.
Ferocious, feminist, fierce and great fun. Appropriate for ages 13-17.